What are the various avenues to reduce CO2 emissions and reduce global warming?


This answer is from the Climate Change for Idiots series. See answers to all questions from here.


What are the various avenues to tackle climate change and global warming?

SHORT ANSWER: Well, this needs a long answer.

Longer Answer

Of course, the world wants to do something about this global warming thing.

But it is not easy.

Just think for a moment: Over 7 billion souls – from almost 200 countries, tens of thousands of cities and millions of villages – are contributing to this massive problem. It will take even God some time to figure out a way.

We mere mortals are just about starting to try.

What indeed are the feasible avenues to solve such a massive, complex problem?

The first thing to take home is: There’s no one magical solution – there’s no silver bullet to reduce global warming. Everyone agrees on this point. So, while no one today can assure you of ANY foolproof method, experts agree that such a complex problem can be solved only by using well-thought out frameworks and an effective set of action mechanisms that make up such frameworks.

If all these sound abstract, let me get a bit more concrete.

The Framework

The framework for global warming control focuses on the following:

  • CO2 Reduction through Use of Alternatives
  • CO2 Reduction through Optimization/Enhanced Efficiency
  • CO2 Reduction through Other Avenues

CO2 Reduction through Use of Alternatives

Two key alternatives being pursued are renewable energy sources for heat and power, and alternatives to current modes of transportation:

  • Increasing renewable energy to significantly higher percentages of the global energy mix, specifically for power and heat. (see: Can renewable energy reduce global warming?; also measured increases in nuclear energy in this mix (see: Can nuclear energy reduce global warming?). These energy sources that emit much less CO2 per unit of energy recovered.
  • Significant adoption of mass transit – Transport is one of the largest sources of CO2 emissions. Thus, cutting down personal transport and increasing the amount of mass transit public transport could significantly bring down CO2 emissions per capita.
  • Increased adoption of electric mobility and biofuels for transport vehicles

CO2 Reduction through Optimization / Enhanced Efficiency

Energy and resource efficiency have significant potential to reduce CO2 emissions for the same output. Some of the key avenues pursued for energy efficiency include:

  • Upgrading infrastructure and slashing building energy use and turning a good percent of buildings into either net-zero or near net-zero emissions (see: Can energy efficiency reduce global warming?).
  • Reducing emissions associated with heavy industries through energy efficiency replacements or retrofits
  • Increasing transport fuel efficiency

CO2 Reduction through Other Avenues

Other avenues being actively pursued for CO2 emission reduction are:

Implementation of the Framework

While the above are the avenues for CO2 reduction, how can these be implemented?

Implementation of so many diverse efforts, and that too all over the world, is no easy task. This is where implementation policies and action plans come in. Essentially, the action plans adopt a “carrot and stick” approach, and include:

  • Mandates & Penalties
  • Incentives
  • Standards & Metrics

Mandates & Penalties

Mandates and penalties can be considered the stick part of the “carrot and stick” approach. These include:

  • Cap and Trade – In a cap and trade system, an overall cap would be placed on greenhouse gas emissions. Parties responsible for these emissions, such as power plants, would obtain allowances to emit a specific amount of these greenhouse gases within the cap. Should an entity emit more than its allotted amount, it would be required to purchase more allowances. These allowances could be purchased from those did well on emissions and are able to sell off their surplus allowances. The term “cap and trade” is mainly used in the US and some western countries; similar mandates are known by other terms in other countries. In India for instance, one version goes under the term Renewable Purchase Obligations – under this mandate, entities are required to generate or consume at least a certain portion of their targets/requirements through renewable energy sources, and if they do not, buy renewable energy certificates from others.
  • Carbon Pricing/Carbon Tax – A carbon tax would tax goods based upon the amount of carbon it contains. The revenue generated from this tax could be used for a variety of purposes, including investment in research, development and deployment of new energy technologies or relief for low-income populations who are harder hit by high energy prices, among others. The carbon tax option,  is often touted as a simple, straightforward approach to inducing individuals and businesses to find less carbon-intensive products and services.


The incentives for clean energy projects represent the “carrot” portion of the approach. A range of financial and non-financial incentives are used to spur investments in low carbon sources and CO2 reduction avenues. Prominent among these are incentives for renewable energy investments – these include mechanisms such as:

  • Feed-in tariffs – these refer to tariffs that are provided to renewable energy power generators. These tariffs are usually significantly higher than what a conventional power generator gets from the utility that purchases the power
  • Capital subsidies – Capital subsidies, typically provided as a percentage of the total project cost, ensure that the upfront expense for capital heavy renewable energy projects are reduced
  • Tax breaks – these can different forms in different countries, and similar to capital subsidies, these result in a lower upfront project cost – as these tax benefits provide most of the incentives in the first few years of the project.

Some or all of the above incentives together ensure an excellent return on investment for those who invest in renewable energy.

Standards, Codes & Metrics

A supporting mechanism for the incentives and mandates is a comprehensive set of standards and metrics that provide useful benchmarks for those developing clean energy projects. Some of the prominent among these include:

  • National renewable electricity standards (RES) and renewable fuel standards that expand the use of renewable energy and transform our energy system to one that is clean
  • High fuel efficiency standards for motor vehicles
  • Energy efficiency resource standards – for appliances & equipment, for buildings and more
  • Ecosystem Planning – Planning and designing for a smarter energy use ecosystem through the use of stricter building codes, use of smart meters and planning for smart urban and and smart city planning

So, the big picture for global CO2 reduction is:

  • Construct a framework that comprises the various avenues through which CO2 emissions can be reduced significantly, and
  • Implement the framework through a mix of mandates, incentives and support systems such as standards.

All right, now that you know the avenues being attempted to reduce CO2 emissions, you might also want to know the following:

  • What are the world’s large and powerful governments doing about Climate Change?See answer
  • What are the benefits of acting on climate change right away, rather than later? – See answer
  • Why does CO2 get most of the attention when there are other greenhouse gases? – See answer
  • How much CO2 does the world emit? – See answer
  • Can we capture CO2 from power plants and reduce global warming? – See answer
  • Why can’t we simply grow more trees, absorb the extra CO2 and reduce global warming? – See answer
  • Which activities and industries emit the most CO2? – See answer
  • How much CO2 is emitted owing to power generation?See answer
  • How much CO2 is emitted owing to transport?See answer
  • What are the benefits of acting on climate change right away, rather than later? – See answer
  • Can renewable energy sources contribute to reducing global warming? – See answer
  • Can energy efficiency be a potent tool in our fight against warming? – See answer
  • What’s Clean Development Mechanism?See answer
  • What are the world’s powerful businesses doing about Climate Change? – See answer
  • What are the world’s power plants doing about Climate Change? – See answer

This answer is from the Climate Change for Idiots series. See answers to all questions from here.

CC4I Logo First Cut With Idiot Pic Small


Read also: My review of Bill Gates’ book How to Avoid a Climate Disaster.

What are the various avenues to reduce CO2 emissions and reduce global warming? - Cleantech Guide


  1. Very informative and an excellent article. Just one note God already has the answer. God created this world and knows when and how it is going to end

  2. Since God won’t tell us how long we have, let’s just help ourselves for now. The way you and I are living will change, whether or not we want to. A hundred years from now, folks will hate us and wish they were us. Energy storage is key to increased use of cyclic renewable sources; ie. solar and wind.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *